Game complexity can be both a boon and a bane; a selling point and a source of irritation. There are many titles that I enjoy that have a wealth of systems and mechanics that add greatly to the overall immersion and entertainment. The MMORPG genre excels at this. However, this data all needs to be displayed visually, in an efficient and intuitive fashion. It has to be readily available and easy to navigate. Naturally, there’s a fine balance between making such a system accessible without becoming a source of distraction. This is the challenge that all developers face when designing a user interface. However this problem is compounded further by the human element. Regardless of how well crafted a game’s UI may be, players will always wish to change it to suit their own needs and requirements.
What I often find in the MMO genre, is that the UI is streamlined at the beginning of a game with all the essential data that you need to play, evenly distributed around the screen. This grows exponentially as the game progresses, especially with older titles that frequently suffer from skills bloat. LOTRO is a classic example of this with a wealth of data swamping the screen when you reach level cap. I remember having similar issues when I was actively playing SWTOR. I encountered the same in STO recently, especially with regard to the skills hot bar. This was growing and intruding further towards the middle of the screen, impeding combat.
Mercifully most games have the ability to customise the UI, allowing players to indulge their preferences. Furthermore custom HUD settings can frequently be saved and then loaded when required. Monitor size and screen resolution also play a part in this matter and can have a positive impact if altered. Many games also have a cottage industry of players creating and sharing their own custom user interfaces. LOTROinterface has proven to be very popular over the years. The WoW and ESO communities also have multiple sites and resources for such changes. In the competitive genre of MOBAs, a common interface between team mates can be advantageous.
I currently have a 24 inch monitor with a resolution of 1920 x 1200. It provides a fairly large gaming canvas and allows me to spread the various elements of the UI to the borders of the screen. However an excess of data on the periphery of your vision can be distracting, especially if it flashes or attempts to alert you in some fashion. I also find it an impediment if my hot bars start to encroach towards the centre of the screen. I don't know if this is due to a foible of human vision but I find it draws my eyes away from where they need to be. I've had such problems in STO recently with my hot bar resembling a pyramid, resulting is some judicious customisation.
The ability to alter a games GUI, raises some interesting questions. The most obvious is whether or not you actually need everything on-screen. My view is if you're not using a specific element of the HUD, then remove it and that goes for skills as well. Then there is the matter of whether games developers are doing their best to accommodate the needs of players with disabilities. Resizing elements and changing colour schemes, as well as assigning audio alerts can all be incredibly beneficial. Fonts can also be a bone of contention, with some not lending themselves readily to being scaled. A simple change of this nature can often improve gaming.
Personally, I would like to see more customisation options added to games. The mod scene in Skyrim really set the standard. I also like the way that some MMOs such as LOTRO have built in voice chat and access to social media. STO allows players to utilise third party audio players while in-game and The Secret World has its own internal web browser as part of the narrative. Although it is to a developer’s advantage to keep the player focused and in-game, facilitating customisation and providing multiple tools aids this process. Flexibility and accommodating change needs to be more of a driving factors in games development because no two players are alike.